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The Hurricane Irma Hit on A Problem that Affects Florida’s Most Vulnerable

Law Offices of McCullough & Leboff, P.A. Jan. 1, 2018

Florida ranks fourth largest in population size among the states, behind California, New York, and Texas. It ranks first, however, in the proportion of its population aged 65 and over. Nearly 4 of the 20 million people who reside in the sunshine state are aged 65 or older.

A devastating story that caught the attention of many Floridians in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma was the loss of life in a Hollywood, FL nursing home. The power transformer was damaged during the storm, leaving the facility without suitable air conditioning for days. While the facility had a generator, it was not enough to push cold air through entire building, employing staff members to improvise with fans and smaller portable cooling units.

Temperatures in the days following the hurricane’s landfall hovered around 90 degrees and contributed, both directly or indirectly, to the deaths of eight residents before the facility was fully evacuated.

What Are Florida’s Rules for Nursing Home Emergency Plans?

Under Florida law, nursing homes must file emergency plans with their counties. Broward County signed off on the facility’s latest emergency plan in July, according to county records. Federal law also requires nursing homes to have an alternative source of energy to maintain temperature, protect residents’ health and safety, and power other critical functions, such as sewage and
waste disposal.

The loss of life resulting from the Hurricane Irma power outages led Florida Governor Rick Scott to set new emergency requirements for the state’s nursing homes. The new measures mandate that nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have supplies and power to sustain operations for at least 96 hours after a power outage. Facilities must also have “ample resources, including a
generator and the appropriate amount of fuel” to “maintain comfortable temperatures” over the same timeframe.

“During emergencies, health care facilities must be fully prepared to ensure the health, safety and well-being of those in their care and there is absolutely no excuse not to protect life,”
Scott said in statement announcing the new requirements.

What Are Florida’s New Rules for Nursing Home Emergencies?

The emergency measures, which took effect on September 16th, 2017, bring nursing homes and assisted living facilities in line with emergency requirements at Florida’s hospitals, according to the
governor’s office. Facilities that fail to comply within 60 days or by November 16th, 2017, are subject to $1,000-per-day fines and could have their licenses revoked.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma hit on a deeper and more widespread issue that has plagued assisted living facilities in recent years. A congressional report showed that an examination of nursing home records conducted over a two-year period revealed that nearly one in three nursing homes were cited for violations that had the potential to cause harm and almost 10 percent of all nursing homes have violations that caused actual harm, serious injury, or placed the residents in jeopardy of death.

Nursing home neglect is often unintentional and is typically a result of inadequate staffing or training, including emergency response training, which hospitals are required to perform, whereas
nursing home and assisted living facilities are not.

Neglect occurs when a patient’s needs are not taken care of such as personal hygiene care or when the patient is not provided food, clothing or water, or adequate living arrangements.

Experienced Attorneys Can Help Victims of Neglect

Neglect victims having any questions about how to proceed in the event of illness, injury, or loss of life are encouraged to speak with an attorney.

Legal professionals that specialize in prosecuting nursing home abuse or neglect are best prepared to advise victims and their families on their legal concerns and ultimately make sure you and your loved one’s rights are protected.